Hanging out the other morning with my boys, I tested an idea I’d had on starting with the simplest possible model of a domain and slowly working towards complexity by exploring the implications of simple but significant additions.

To try it out, we explored primarily meteorology and geology with “Simple World”.


Simple World

Picture a perfectly smooth ball of rock the size of Earth. It may have little variations in the density and composition of the rock, but it’s essentially featureless. There’s nothing else in the universe – just this Earth sized ball, with an Earthlike atmosphere.

Then there was Sun

Then we added a sun, and I asked the boys what would be different.

We talked about how without rotation, there would be a day side and a night side. With a few leading questions, they honed in on the fact that the temperature would be a gradient across the sphere. From that, we worked our way towards pressure differences in the air, and that leading to convection currents: essentially a torus-shaped rotating mass of air. I reminded them that temperature affects how much water air can hold, and they worked out that there would be a rain zone. What I hadn’t thought about but they did was that there would also be a snow zone.

This water cycle then led to a discussion of erosion and what sort of land forms would come from that.

We talked a bit about gravity, and about the Earth falling around the Sun to avoid crashing into it. We talked about the year-long day and night this would produce. We talked briefly about how after working out the implications of revolution we’d want to tackle rotation, and then the Moon – but that was outside what we were going to cover in a morning. We’d eventually add a liquid core and discuss magnetic fields and the importance of the Van Allen Belt.

They were interested and stayed engaged and were pleased with the insights they had. I was extremely pleased by how well this approach works and allows them to take ownership of the knowledge that comes out of it. I think it’ll lead well to vocabulary discussions as we talk about the nitty gritty details of each set of implications.

It’s also a great leaping off point for talking about the other planets – talk about their different starting conditions, and ask why they are different from the earth, learn about them each.

I’m working on similar approaches for evolutionary adaptation, chemistry, civic planning and occupation, and more.